Bush, The Salesman

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 22, 2006; 10:27 AM

When President Bush finished his news conference yesterday, most of the TV pundits were using words like "confident," "combative," "passionate" and, as Bob Schieffer put it, "George Bush sort of unleashed."

But some people I chatted with afterward thought it was painfully obvious that the president had done badly--even though he made about as strong as case for the war as he's ever made.

I think we've reached a point where much of the country has tuned out Bush. The people who like him and the people who dislike him aren't changing their minds. The people who support the war and the people who think it's a total disaster are dug into their positions.

Bush did find a useful foil at the presser in calling on liberal columnist Helen Thomas for the first time in three years. She attacked the war and essentially accused him of lying about why he took the country to war, allowing Bush not only to punch back but to show the country that he's up against a left-wing press corps.

Bush is in the unenviable position of saying much the same thing day after day, which is why he's not breaking through. The new tweaks are that he's taking real questions at his town hall meetings, instead of the pre-screened variety, and talking more candidly about the violence in Iraq, to show that he is not detached from the facts.

But the declarations by Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld that things are getting better are contradicted, in most people's minds, by the pictures they see on television--and all the talk in the world about how the media overemphasize the negative isn't going to change that. With even former prime minister Ayad Allawi saying Iraq is in the midst of civil war, the administration's denials are falling flat.

Why, then, aren't we seeing the kind of massive protests that erupted during Vietnam?

Two words: the draft. Then, a growing portion of the country felt not just that the war was immoral but that their sons and daughters could be sent to die in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Now, with an all-volunteer army, the only Americans who are directly affected are those whose relatives and friends signed up for military duty. And since Bush has cut taxes, he has asked no sacrifice of his countrymen in prosecuting this war, which seems rather far away to many folks.

One other point: While LBJ gradually escalated our involvement in Vietnam after the Tonkin Gulf incident, Bush launched an invasion based heavily on a rationale that turned out not to be true. And that has made him even more of a lightning rod than Lyndon Johnson was.

I'm glad the president, after a record low number of news conferences in his first term, is meeting the press more. But he does not seem to be changing many minds.

"Mr. Bush in effect acknowledged that until he could convince increasingly skeptical Americans that the United States was winning the war, Iraq would overshadow everything he did," says the New York Times .

"Later, in response to a question about whether a day would come when there would be no more American forces in Iraq, he said that 'future presidents and future governments of Iraq' would make that decision.

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